WORDS FROM THE PASTOR: God the Healer
As I write this, the political leaders of our nation are locking horns in a massive debate over medical care and health insurance. As a pastor, I have no particular wisdom to contribute to this debate–Scripture gives no direction on how a country should structure its health system. But I thought it might be a good time to meditate on healing and health, and on God as the ultimate source of healing.
October is actually a good month for such meditation–for this month brings us the Festival of St. Luke the Evangelist, celebrated on Oct. 18. Luke is the author of two books in the Bible–the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. (Some people also think he wrote the Letter to the Hebrews). Taken together, Luke and Acts make up roughly 25 percent of the New Testament. So God used Luke to write a generous portion of the Scriptures! (I would say that Luke wrote “the lion’s share” of the New Testament–but the traditional symbol for Luke is actually the ox! St. Mark is the lion). Luke was a companion of St. Paul in some of his travels, as reflected in the many passages in Acts written in the first person plural (“we”). As a Gentile, Luke reminds us how Jesus came for all people, whatever their nationality. And Luke was a doctor! St. Paul writes in Colossians:
Luke the beloved physician greets you. (Colossians 4:14).
So this great figure from the New Testament, this man who wrote so much of our inspired Scriptures, was a professional healer! This shows us that the medical profession is noble and worthy in God’s eyes.
Sometimes Christians look down their noses at medicine–they feel we should rely totally on God for healing, and not upon physicians and pharmacists. I would argue, however, that God ordinarily accomplishes His healing through medicine. There certainly is miraculous healing–and numerous studies suggest that prayer does indeed help people recover from illnesses. But most of God’s healing work is done through medicine. After all, who gives doctors their skills? A passage in the Apocryphal book of Ecclesasticus reminds us of this. (By the way, the Apocrypha in the Lutheran tradition are books that have a sacred character but are not on the same level as Holy Scripture–Luther translated them into German, and Lutheran Bibles in Germany always include them.). Ecclesiasticus tells us:
Honor the physician with the honor due to him, according to your need of him, for
the Lord created him. For healing comes from the Most High. (Ecclesiasticus 38:1-2)
Not only are doctors from God, but also medication, according to Ecclesiasticus:
The Lord created medicines from the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them...
By them he heals and takes away pain; the pharmacist makes of them a compound.
(Ecclesiasticus 38:4, 7-8).
I don’t want to take sides in the debate between herbal medicine vs. pharmaceutical medicine–both, after all, use substances drawn from God’s creation. But I do want to make the point that healing skills and healing substances ultimately come from God the creator. So when we go to the doctor, receive treatment, and get better, we are encountering the healing power of God!
Interestingly, Jesus compares Himself to a doctor. When He is criticized for associating with sinners, He says:
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call
the virtuous, but sinners. (Mark 2:17 )
So Jesus has come into the world to heal. During His time on earth, this often took the form of healing physical disease–He made paralytics walk, blind people see, deaf people hear. He cured a woman of a hemorrhage that doctors had treated for 12 years and failed to alleviate ( Mark 5:26. When Luke tells this same story, he leaves out the 12 years of medical failure–trying to shield his profession from criticism apparently!) Jesus made broken bodies whole with His divine healing power.
But, as the verse I quoted from Mark indicates, Christ’s ultimate healing involves broken souls, broken relationships with God. He came to bring us sinners back into God’s family. And He accomplishes this healing in an astounding way–He allows Himself to be broken. He allows His body to be beaten and nailed to the cross. “By His wounds we are healed,” Isaiah declares (Isaiah 53:5). The best healer, it is said, is a wounded healer–and Christ is the ultimate wounded healer. His blood takes away our sin and heals our relationship with God.
There is a classic bulletin blooper that says: “Church supper Sunday at 6 p.m. Prayer and medication afterward”. The typo on “meditation” is supposed to cast some doubt upon the quality of food served at the church. But in reality, God’s church does offer us some medication, and it has nothing to do with tainted casseroles. It has to do with our sin-tainted souls–and the medication the church gives us, in Word and Sacrament, is the healing forgiveness of Christ won upon the Holy Cross.
God is a God of healing. Sometimes He accomplishes this healing miraculously (and we should always optimistically pray in a situation of illness). More often, He uses the skills of
physicians (like St. Luke!) and medical substances drawn from His creation. (And sometimes, for His own purposes often unknown to us, He does not physically heal–even Paul was denied physical healing according to II Corinthians 12). And the greatest healing is the one that happens through the wounds of Christ–the healing of our broken friendship with God. Whenever we are made whole, miraculously or medically or through God’s forgiveness, we can glorify and rejoice in God the healer!
God loves you and so do I!